Ottawa police say reported incidents of hate on the rise

Ottawa police note hate reporting increased from 79 cases in 2015 to 109 in 2016, but not linked to rise of organized white supremacy groups.

But police say a new online reporting tool may have affected the increase

Graffiti is scrubbed from the back wall of the Ahlul-Bayt Islamic Education Centre in Vanier in 2016. Police statistics suggest an increase in reported hate incidents from 2015 to 2016. (CBC)

On Boxing Day 2016, police arrived outside an Ottawa home to witness a woman yelling at the Syrian family next door.

"You f—king Somalians go back to your country," screamed the woman, according to a police report in the court documents.

The accused pleaded guilty to charges related to striking the mother of the Syrian family in the face, shoving the 23-year-old daughter down the stairs and yanking off the hijabs of two other daughters, 10 and 15.

The family of five moved soon after the incident, according to the documents, because "the children were afraid to go out by themselves."

The incident is among the growing number of cases being treated as hate crimes in the nation's capital.

Number of reported hate incidents rose in 2016

Ottawa police confirm the number of hate-related reports has grown from 79 in 2015 to 109 in 2016. To date this year, the number has reached 56.

"Just because our reporting has increased doesn't necessarily mean there is an uptick in hate crime," warned Insp Mark Patterson, who oversees the criminal intelligence and covert operations section of the Ottawa Police Service.

Insp. Mark Patterson confirms an increase in hate-crime reporting, but notes "We're encouraging more people to report this now." (CBC)

He noted that a new online reporting tool may have affected the increases. "We're encouraging more people to report this now."

Farber: "Unprecedented increase in hate crimes"

But according to Bernie Farber, the executive director of the Mosaic Institute — a think tank that promotes diversity — there are peaks and valleys in hate crime, and the rise of neo-Nazi and white supremacy groups.

Incidents are beginning to peak again in Canada, he said.

Farber spoke as an expert witness in Ottawa's most high-profile, hate-crime case currently before the courts, involving a 17-year-old who pleaded guilty following a racist spray-painting spree targeting synagogues, a mosque and church between November 13 and 19, 2016.

Two swastikas were spray-painted on the doors of the Machzikei Hadas synagogue as part of a week long racist spray-painting spree between November 13 and 19, 2016. A 17-year-old pleaded guilty to the incidents. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

"Sadly, we have seen an unprecedented increase in hate crimes in the last six months that have predominantly targeted Canadian Muslims and Jews," Farber testified in May.

No evidence of white supremacy groups in the capital

However, Ottawa police suggest the kind of alleged hate crimes currently being investigated involve individuals acting on their own.

Patterson said there is no evidence some of the organized white supremacist groups that gathered last weekend in Charlottesville, Va. have opened up chapters in this region.

"We're certainly aware of the climate in the world and information gets relayed to us from our partner agencies," said Patterson, noting police here remain vigilant.

Note of reassurance

The Canadian Jewish advocacy group CIJA put out a message to its members Friday to calm concern in the wake of the violence in Virginia, confirming the threat to the community had not changed.

The statement, from CIJA CEO Shimon Koffler Fogel, also attempted to put the issue of hate crime into perspective, noting "despite having promoted their appalling event weeks in advance, the white supremacists behind the Charlottesville rally managed to gather only a few hundred people from across a country of 320 million.

A line stretches back from the door of the Machzikei Hadas synagogue in Ottawa before a multi-faith solidarity gathering on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

By comparison, with only 24 hours' notice, a diverse crowd of more than 1,000 gathered at my synagogue in Ottawa last November to unite in the face of a spree of hateful graffiti, he said.

Farber made the same point to CBC this week, emphasizing how Canadians have successfully stood up against hate in the past, "and I'm quite proud the way Canadians have taken this to heart."